American baseball player
Andrew "Rube" Foster, founder and first president of the Negro National League, is known as the Father of Black Baseball. An outstanding pitcher who began his own career as a player at age 17, Foster supported black teams throughout his life and worked for the legitimization, respect, and financial success of African-American baseball. A creative and intelligent businessman, Foster also helped to form the Chicago American Giants, a powerhouse team that some say would have rivaled the New York Yankees had they been allowed to play in the same league. Foster began his career as a team manager with the Leland Giants in 1907, urging them to a 110-10 record. His Chicago American Giants took home the Negro National League's first three pennants, in 1920, 1921, and 1922. Although his career came to an end in 1926 after he suffered a mental breakdown, Foster had firmly established the Negro leagues as an important institution in American baseball. Even though the leagues began to decline after 1945, when Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues, they had brought well-deserved recognition to African-American athletes in the United States. Foster was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 for his contribution to the sport.
Boyhood and Early Barnstorming Career
Andrew Foster was born September 17, 1879, in Calvert, Texas, the son of Andrew Foster, Sr., presiding elder at the Calvert Methodist Episcopal Church, and Sarah Foster. He suffered from asthma as a boy but became as enthusiastic about baseball as he was about attending church. He was soon organizing a neighborhood team, and his interest grew as he did. After his mother died, his father remarried and moved to southwest Texas. Andrew completed the eighth grade and left home to pursue his love of baseball. At age 17 he joined the traveling Fort Worth, Texas, Yellow Jackets and began a barnstorming career that was typical of African-American teams of his time. Ironically, the traveling ball players were looked down on by fellow blacks, who considered them "low and ungentlemanly," according to Foster, as quoted in Robert Peterson's Only the Ball Was White.
In addition to traveling with the Yellow Jackets, Foster pitched to white major league teams that came to Texas for spring training. Legend has it that during a 1901 batting practice with Connie Mack 's Philadelphia Athletics, baseball manager John McGraw recognized Foster's pitching ability and wanted him for his New York Giants. However, blacks were barred from playing in the major leagues.
Moves North, Earns Nickname
In 1902, Foster moved to Chicago, where he joined the Chicago Union Giants, better known as the Leland Giants for owner Frank Leland, a veteran of black baseball. The same year, he moved to Philadelphia and switched to E. B. Lamar's Union Giants, or Cuban Giants. Around this time he outpitched the Philadelphia Athletics's star pitcher Rube Waddell in an exhibition game, earning himself the nickname "Rube" as a trophy. It would stick with him for the rest of his life.
In 1903 he switched to a rival Philadelphia team, the Cuban X-Giants, pitching that fall in black baseball's first World Series, which the X-Giants won five games to two. Legend has it that the same year McGraw asked Foster to teach his "fadeaway" screwball pitch to his New York Giants pitchers Christy Mathewson , Iron Man McGinnity, and Red Ames. Soon afterward, the Giants rose from last place in the league to second.
In 1904, Foster and most of the X-Giants team switched back to the Union Giants and won the three-game World Series over their former team. Statistics on Foster are often missing or sketchy and the truth is hard to determine, but for 1905 he is noted to have won 51 out of 56 games. Unhappy with his pay by 1906, Foster left Philadelphia to rejoin the Leland Giants in Chicago, where he offered to both play for and manage the team. Bringing seven of his best players with him, including power hitters John Henry Lloyd, Grant "Home Run" Johnson, and Pete Hill, Foster persuaded Frank Leland to fire his team members and hire Foster's. The new team won the Chicago semipro title in 1907, winning 110 out of 120 games, with 48 consecutive wins. In a postseason series against the Chicago City All-Stars, a white team that hired major and minor league players, Foster pitched four winning games, and his team finished first.
|1879||Born in Calvert, Texas|
|1896||Begins pitching with the traveling Waco Yellow Jackets, at age 17|
|1901||Joins the Chicago Union Giants, also known as the Leland Giants|
|1902||Switches to the Union Giants of Philadelphia|
|1902||Outpitches white star Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics in an exhibition game, earning himself the nickname "Rube" as a trophy|
|1903||Joins the Cuban X-Giants, also of Philadelphia and helps the team win the first black World Series|
|1904||Rejoins the Union Giants and helps them win World Series over the X-Giants|
|1907||Joins the Leland Giants as both manager and player, bringing with him seven teammates; persuades owner Frank Leland to fire some of his players and hire Foster's|
|1911||Forms partnership with John M. Schorling and creates Chicago American Giants, a team Foster called the greatest he ever assembled|
|1919||Race riots erupt in Chicago and other cities|
|1919||Calls meeting of best black ball clubs in Midwest and proposes formation of Negro National League, to be governed by National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs|
|1920||Foster presents constitution and incorporation documents to owners of black ball clubs to form eight-team Negro National League; Southern Negro League is formed later in year|
|1922||Negro League teams barnstorm in Japan|
|1923||Eastern Colored League is formed|
|1924||NNL Kansas City Monarchs beat ECL Philadelphia Hilldale Club in official Negro World Series|
|1925||Is exposed to gas leak in Indianapolis; health begins to fail|
|1926||Is placed in Illinois state asylum at Kankakee after nervous breakdown|
|1928||Schorling sells American Giants to white florist William E. Trimble|
|1930||Foster dies of heart attack; 3,000 attend funeral in Chicago|
|1981||Is inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame|
Foster's pitching skills were by this time so finely tuned that Hall of Famer Honus Wagner once called him "one of the greatest pitchers of all time … smartest pitcher I've ever seen." Chicago Cubs manager Frank Chance called him "the most finished product I've ever seen in the pitcher's box." Foster was a big man, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing between 224 and 260 pounds. Although the fans loved him, many players were said to dislike or even fear him because he "engaged in personalities" when he pitched and often carried his Texas six-guns. He unnerved players by smiling and appearing jovial and unconcerned on the field. He often distracted batters and tricked them into striking out. His searing fastball and powerful underhand screwball made him a star pitching attraction of black baseball and the envy of many white pitchers.
Chicago American Giants
The facts are unclear on the year in which Foster first formed his great team the Chicago American Giants. Some sources say he changed the Leland Giants's name to American Giants as early as 1908, but most say he first formed the team in 1911, after entering into a partnership with John M. Schorling, a white tavern owner who was also baseball manager Charles Comiskey's son-in-law. This partnership allowed the American Giants to make use of the Chicago White Sox's former home at South Side Park after the white team moved into the new Comiskey Park.
Whether the Leland Giants or the American Giants, however, Foster's team in 1910 won 123 out of 129 games. No major league ball club stepped forward to respond to Foster's challenge of a series game that year. His team had narrowly lost to the Chicago Cubs in such a challenge in 1909. By 1911, the Chicago American Giants dominated semipro baseball in Chicago as well as national black baseball. They played about half of their games barnstorming and half in the Chicago City League, which included one other black team and a dozen white semipro teams.
The American Giants's popularity grew with each season. They won the Chicago semipro crown in 1911 and 1912. They enlisted Jack Johnson , heavyweight boxing champion, to give souvenirs to women fans and heavily advertised their games. While barnstorming, they traveled by private Pullman railroad car. The team wore a different set of uniforms each day and played with a variety of bats and balls. Foster was not above using certain tricks to ensure the success of his team. He reportedly froze baseballs to make them harder to hit and built slight ridges along the foul lines so bunted balls would stay within the playing field. Emulating such powerful white baseball executives as Ban Johnson and John McGraw, Foster paid his players well, demanded top performance from them, and enticed new players with the promise of prestige and the best in travel amenities. But for the color of his skin, Foster would likely have equaled his two colleagues in professional stature.
Some of the Chicago American Giants players who have since become baseball legends themselves were James "Cool Papa" Bell , Willie Wells, and Oscar Charleston. Many of the American Giants were known as "racehorses" because they could sprint a hundred yards in less than ten seconds. Foster continued to pitch for the team and developed a technique of bunt-and-run for his batters that nearly always led to successful plays. The fans, both black and white, loved the Giants. According to Michael L. Cooper in Playing America's Game: The Story of Negro League Baseball, one Sunday in 1911 when all three Chicago teams played at home, the Giants drew some 11,000 fans, the White Sox 9,000, and the Cubs 6,000. The American Giants won black baseball championships in 1914 and 1917 and shared the 1915 championship with the New York Lincoln Stars. They also won the California Winter League crown in 1915, competing with white major leaguers following the regular season. In 1916, with Foster still pitching for them at age 35, the Giants won the Colored World Series against the Brooklyn Royal Giants. By 1918, Foster was paying his players $1,700 a month, yet some Eastern teams enticed them away for more money.
Related Biography: Baseball Executive Ban Johnson
Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson is known as the founder of baseball's American League. He defined the role of baseball executive during the 1890s and early 1900s and earned the title "the Czar of Baseball" during his term on the National Commission, from 1903 to 1920. He was president of the American League from 1901 to 1927.
Born January 5, 1864, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of a school administrator, Johnson played baseball at Marietta College. He entered the University of Cincinnati Law School but did not complete his degree, instead becoming a sportswriter and then sports editor for the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette.
Johnson and his close friend Charlie Comiskey, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, talked often of ways to improve baseball, and in 1894 Johnson was hired as president of the Western League on Comiskey's recommendation. After Comiskey left the Reds, he joined Johnson, and the two began expanding the league's teams and changed its name to the American League (AL) in 1900. One year later, the league had major status, and by 1903 its teams were competing with the National League (NL) in the World Series.
Johnson was known as a shrewd, imaginative, vain, stubborn, hard-driving executive with rigorous standards. He persuaded millionaires to finance his teams, brought order to rowdy play on the field, garnered respect for umpires, appointed managers, traded players, arranged travel schedules, and brought publicity and respectability to baseball through such tactics as having President William Howard Taft throw out the ball on opening day.
However, in time Johnson's iron rule sat poorly with American League owners. The infamous "Chicago Black Sox" scandal, in which players were accused of gambling fixes in 1919, led to an investigation and the resulting abolition of the National Commission. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner of Baseball, and although Johnson remained president of the American League, his power was limited. He resigned from the league in 1927 in ill health and died from complications of diabetes in 1931. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
The Negro National League
The atmosphere at the time Foster formed a separate league for black baseball players was one of growth and change, even violent unrest, in Chicago. The African-American population of the city had doubled between 1910 and 1920, as blacks fled ill treatment in the South and moved north for jobs in factories and stockyards. In 1919, Chicago and other cities were torn by race riots. National Guardsmen moved in after thirty-eight people were killed in the city. Although opportunities were plentiful for black entrepreneurs, many of the profits were retained by whites. African-American intellectual John Hope had said, "The white man has converted and reconverted the Negro's labor and the Negro's money into capital until we find an immense section of the developed country owned by whites and worked by colored…. We must take in some, if not all, of the wages, turn it into capital, hold it, increase it."
What was true in the general economy for blacks was also true in black baseball. White interests controlled the stadiums where black teams played and took large percentages of the gate. Teams that objected were not allowed to play. White booking agents had already begun to do away with black team owners and control the teams themselves. Foster wanted to create an all-black baseball enterprise that would keep money earned from games in black pockets. He wanted to form a league for black players that would mirror the major leagues and would eventually play the white leagues in World Series games. He also foresaw the integration of baseball and wanted to be ready to accept white teams into black leagues and vice versa.
Launching a public relations campaign through the Chicago Defender, in 1919 Foster called a meeting of the Midwest's best black ball clubs and proposed the formation of a Negro National League, to be governed by the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. After a year-long struggle, on February 13 and 14, 1920, Foster met with owners of the black clubs at the Kansas City, Missouri, Young Men's Christian Association and presented to them a constitution forming the league, with complete incorporation papers. The constitution laid down rules of conduct during games and prohibited team-jumping and raiding other teams for players, among other restrictions. Foster said his goal in forming the league was "to create a profession that would equal the earning capacity of any other profession… keep Colored baseball from the control of whites [and] do something concrete for the loyalty of the Race." The owners accepted the agreement, and within the year the Negro National League (NNL), whose motto was "We are the ship, all else the sea," played its first contest.
The original NNL consisted of the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, St. Louis Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Cincinnati Cuban Stars, and the Kansas City Monarchs. It provided for black ownership of all Negro National League teams, but one white owner, J. L. Wilkinson of the Kansas City Monarchs, was retained. A highly popular owner who proved to have the players' best interests at heart, Wilkinson managed the Monarchs to become one of the most successful black teams in history. By the mid-1940s, the Monarchs would include such players as Buck O'Neil and Jackie Robinson. In his mid-eighties, O'Neil was considered a national spokesman for Negro league baseball and was featured prominently in the nine-part film by Ken Burns, Baseball, which covers the Negro leagues and deals with the subject of race in baseball as an underlying theme.
The club owners elected Foster as first NNL commissioner, and he worked wholeheartedly to make the league and its teams a success. He sent his former player Pete Hill to coach the Detroit Stars and gave up Oscar Charleston to the Indianapolis ABCs in order to strengthen those teams. To ensure that payrolls were met on time, Foster sometimes took out loans or paid salaries out of his own pocket. He called everyone "Darlin'" and smoked a big pipe, and he is said to have had total control over his players on the field. He constantly shifted players within the league to bring equality to teams and avoid criticism from some owners who claimed he had too much power and could hire umpires favorable to his own team, the American Giants. Some even called him the Godfather of Black Baseball, because he had a majority interest in the Detroit Stars and the Dayton Marcos as well. A successful businessman, Foster also owned a barbershop and an automobile service shop.
Foster's Chicago American Giants continued to play as well as ever under the new league, winning the pennant in 1920, 1921, and 1922. Inspired by the NNL, Southern teams formed the Southern Negro League in the spring of 1920. It was made up of teams from Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, and Nashville. Although not as prosperous as the NNL, these teams supplied northern teams with some players who would become famous in their day, such as George "Mule" Suttles, Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, and the great pitcher Satchel Paige .
Awards and Accomplishments
|1906||Pitched Philadelphia Giants to 3-2 win over Cuban X-Giants for Negro Championship Cup|
|1907||Managed and played for Leland Giants, to 110-10 finish and|
|pennant win in Chicago's otherwise all-white City League|
|1911-12||Managed American Giants to win Chicago semipro crown|
|1914||Managed American Giants to win Chicago City League pennant|
|1915||Managed American Giants to tie for pennant with New York Lincoln Stars|
|1915||Managed American Giants to win California Winter League Crown in competition with white major leaguers after end of|
|1916||Managed American Giants to win colored World Series|
|1917||Managed American Giants to win Chicago City League pennant|
|1920-22||Managed American Giants to three Negro National League pennant wins|
|1981||Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame|
In 1923, East Coast teams formed the Eastern Colored League (ECL), including teams from Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlantic City, Baltimore, and two New York teams. According to Cooper, in 1922 the American Giants had faced off against the Atlantic City Bacharachs and played for nineteen innings with neither team scoring. Finally, the Bacharachs placed a right fielder with a weak arm, and Foster signaled his batter to hit to right field. The fielder's throw fell short of home plate, and the Giants won the game 1-0.
Foster continued to manage his Giants and the NNL in 1923, and he made efforts to merge the NNL and the ECL in 1924 but was unsuccessful. The Kansas City Monarchs met the Philadelphia Hilldale Club in the first Negro World Series in 1924. After a tie of four wins apiece in games played in four different cities, the Monarchs won the World Series title in the last game, 5-0. In 1925, the Hilldale Club beat the Monarchs in the Series; the American Giants won the Negro World Series in 1926 and 1927, although Foster was too ill to see them play.
Decline into Mental Illness and Death
Some historians have said that Foster's tireless work in establishing and managing the NNL and his own team had ruined his health by the mid-1920s. In 1925 he was exposed to a gas leak in a room in Indianapolis and was pulled from the room unconscious. Although he recovered, his health was never the same. In 1926 his behavior became so erratic that he was placed in the Illinois State Hospital in Kankakee, where he lived out the rest of his life. Although he talked constantly of baseball and wanted desperately to win another pennant, Foster never saw his Giants play in the Negro World Series for which he had worked so hard. He died of a heart attack on December 9, 1930. More than 3,000 mourners attended his funeral in Chicago, standing in icy rain and wind to witness the procession and pay their respects. He was eulogized as the "father of Negro baseball." His widow, Sarah Watts Foster, was unfamiliar with his business arrangements and realized no benefits from his ventures. His partner, John Schorling, had sold the American Giants to a white florist, William E. Trimble, in 1928. Although black businessmen bought it in 1930, the team never reached its former level.
The NNL dissolved in 1931, during the Great Depression, after several years of declining financial success and the absence of Foster's guiding hand. It was revived, however, in the mid-1930s, and black teams went on to play in the Negro leagues until about 1960, some fifteen years after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player of the twentieth century to sign with a white major league team. The integration of African-American players into the major leagues caused fans to follow those teams with greater interest, and the Negro leagues declined and finally folded.
Although it meant the end of the Negro leagues, integration was the ultimate goal of Rube Foster and his colleagues, and it was achieved. Nearly forty more black players had followed Robinson into the major leagues by 1949, among them, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron , and Paige. Foster had devoted his energy and his life to black baseball and to the uplifting of the sport and of his fellow African-American athletes, whom he helped to gain a high level of respect. He served as a star pitcher until his late thirties, served for some fifteen years as a baseball manager, and served as commissioner of the NNL for five years. He has often been called the greatest baseball manager of any race. Foster was also a great teacher, who taught not only his pitching skills to some of the game's greatest pitchers but his managing skills to a second generation of black managers, including Oscar Charleston, Dave Malarcher, and Biz Mackey. His induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City during the mid-1990s leave no doubt that Foster and the ideals for which he stood have achieved a national appreciation.
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Lester, Larry, Sammy J. Miller, and Dick Clark. Black Baseball in Detroit. Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
Notable Black American Men. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.
Keisser, Bob. "When Only the Ball Was White History: Former Negro League Players Spread the Word about Their Innovative Game." Long Beach Press-Telegram (February 24, 1997): C1.
Story, Rosalyn. "A Museum of Their Own: Kansas City Preserves the Legacy of Negro Leagues Players." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 10, 1997): C-1.
Whiteside, Larry. "Long before Jackie Robinson's Historic Debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Negro League Players Thrived in Anonymity—and Made His Signing Possible, Paving the Way." Boston Globe (July 9, 1999): F5.
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Sketch by Ann H. Shurgin
For his achievements as a pitcher, manager, and founder and administrator of the first viable black baseball league, the Negro National League (NNL), Rube Foster (1879–1930) became known as "The Father of Black Baseball." He also founded the American Giants—one of the greatest black baseball teams in history.
Foster was born Andrew Foster on September 17, 1879, in Calvert, Texas, a farming community near Waco. He was the son of Andrew, the presiding elder of Calvert's Methodist Episcopal Church, and Sarah Foster. As a child, Foster was asthmatic. He was as devoted to church each Sunday morning as he was to baseball each Sunday afternoon. He showed promise early as an organizer and administrator of the sport and operated a team while a grade school student. After Sarah Foster died, Andrew Sr. remarried and moved to southwest Texas. By then, baseball already drove young Andrew's life. After completing the eighth grade, he left school and ran away to Fort Worth to pursue his love of the sport.
When he was only 17 years old, Foster had already begun to play for the Fort Worth Yellow Jackets. He traveled with the Jackets in Texas and bordering states and was introduced early to the prejudice that existed then toward baseball players. Quoted in Only the Ball was White, Foster said that the players "were barred away from homes … as baseball and those who played it were considered by Colored as low and ungentlemanly." He also pitched during batting practice when big-league clubs held spring training in Texas.
In 1901, when he was 21 years old, the big, brash, six foot, four inch tall player who weighed over 200 pounds pitched against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics and caught the eye of big-city clubs. He refused an offer to pitch semiprofessional ball in Iowa and joined the black Leland Giants (also called the Chicago Union Giants) owned by Frank Leland, a veteran of black baseball in Chicago.
In 1902 Foster switched to E. B. Lamar's Union Giants, or Cuban Giants—a club from Philadelphia comprised of American blacks—earning $40 a month and 15 cents a meal for "eating money." By then he had become so self-assured about his talent that he called himself the best pitcher in the country. Sources disagree about the outcome of the first few games; however, Blackball Stars said that, after losing the first, Foster won 44 straight games. During this period as well, he beat the great Rube Waddell, whose record was 25-7 with the Philadelphia Athletics, and won the nickname "Rube" that was to remain with him for life. Foster led his team to victory over the Philadelphia Giants, the black baseball champions of the previous year. It has been said that the players disliked Foster, primarily because he "engaged in personalities" when he pitched. He was known also as a gunman and always carried his Texas six-shooters with him, which probably sparked the fear that many had of him.
Joined the Cuban X-Giants
Foster joined the Cuban X-Giants in 1903. Also a black American club from across town, they were rivals with the Philadelphia Giants. In the fall of 1903 Foster pitched in black baseball's first World Series, winning four games for the team. The Cuban X-Giants won the championship five games to two. According to legend, that year John McGraw of the New York Giants hired Foster to teach his screwball to Christy Mathewson, Iron Man McGinnity, and Red Ames. The Giants jumped from last place to second.
Nearly the entire Cuban X-Giants team switched to the Philadelphia Giants the next year and led them to victory in the World Series against their former club. Although Foster was sick when the three-game series opened, he won the first game 8–4, with 18 strikeouts, and the third and deciding game 4–2.
While data on Foster for 1904 are lacking, by 1905 he had remarkable power, winning 51 games and losing only 5. According to Blackball Stars, Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh's great shortstop, called him "the smoothest pitcher I've ever seen." Foster knew how to unnerve rival players when the bases were loaded. He appeared jolly, unconcerned, and smiled generously; more often than not, he came out victorious. Foster continued a successful career, then about 1906, unable to get a salary increase, left for the Leland Giants as manager and player who would do the booking and run the team as well. He took seven teammates with him. He persuaded Frank Leland to fire his previous players and hire Foster's, resulting in a team so successful that they won the Chicago semipro league title and finished ahead of the City All Stars, who hired big league players.
In 1907 the Lelands won 48 straight games for a total of 110 that year. They lost only ten games and won the pennant in Chicago's otherwise all-white city league. The press as well as baseball managers continued to praise Foster's ability. Blackball Stars quotes an undated issue of the Chicago Inter-Ocean that commented on Foster's tricks, speed, and coolness, calling him "the greatest baseball pitcher in the country." Willie Powell remembered in Blackball Stars that "Rube had a way to grip that ball, throw underhand, and he could hum it. And he was a trick pitcher, always tried to trick you into doing something wrong. If you were a big enough fool to listen to him, he'd have you looking at something else and strike you out."
In 1908 Foster changed the team's name to the American Giants to form what might have been the greatest black baseball team in history. In fact, according to Blackball Stars, Foster himself called it "the greatest team he ever assembled." Although there were other good black teams, the American Giants were consistently superior. In 1910 the team won 123 games out of 129. The Giants advertised their star-studded lineup and used heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson to hand out souvenirs to the women fans. The team's fame spread widely and rivaled that of the Chicago White Sox, who played two blocks from owner Charlie Comiskey's park. One Sunday in 1911 when the American Giants played, their attendance outdrew the Cubs and the White Sox.
There are conflicting accounts of this period in black baseball. According to Only the Ball was White, the American Giants were not formed until 1911, with players from the Leland Giants. Foster had entered a friendly partnership with John M. Schorling, a white tavern owner, who verbally agreed to a 50–50 split of receipts. This was a curious act for Foster, who was a shrewd businessman and should have known the importance of a signed contract.
Both in 1911 and 1912 the American Giants won the Chicago semipro crown. The Giants, who by now traveled by private Pullman, moved across the country for spring training and regular season games. They were an attraction to their fans, who watched them wear a different set of uniforms each day and use a variety of bats and balls. By 1916 when Foster was 35 years old, he had gained considerable weight and pitched less. That fall, however, the American Giants beat the Brooklyn Royal Giants to win the "colored World Series." Foster continued his tricks in the ball game and would do anything to win, including freezing baseballs before a game to spoil the opponent's ability land a good hit. Black baseball star James "Cool Papa" Bell said in Blackball Stars: "He built almost imperceptible ridges along the foul lines to insure that any bunted ball would stay fair while his race horses streaked across first base safely." He enticed young players to join his team by flaunting his immense prestige and bragging about the team's elaborate methods of travel.
The race riots of 1919 erupted in several cities. In Chicago alone, 38 people died. When Foster's team returned to their park, they found it occupied by tents of National Guardsmen. As well, during this period eastern black baseball teams threatened to raid Foster's team. By 1918 he paid his players $1,700 a month—more than teachers and mailcarriers earned—yet many of the players were illiterate. Still, the players were attracted by the promise of higher salaries from other owners.
Founded Negro National League
Black organizers had made unsuccessful attempts to form a viable black league in 1887 and again in 1906. In 1919, Foster called a meeting of the best black clubs in the Midwest and proposed the formation of a Negro National League and its governing body, the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. He used the Chicago Defender to launch his campaign for the new organization. Meeting on February 13–14, 1920, at the Kansas City YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), owners of the black clubs drew up a constitution barring player raids and team-jumping, setting fines for unsportsmanlike conduct on and off the field, and other restrictions. Foster wanted an all-black enterprise that would be patterned after the major leagues but would ensure that money earned from the games would stay in black pockets. The group formed an eight–team league comprised of the American Giants, Joe Green's Chicago Giants, the Cuban Stars, the Detroit Stars, the St. Louis Stars, the Indianapolis ABCs, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Dayton Marcos.
Foster foresaw the time when white and black teams would play each other in a World Series and wanted to be ready to integrate white teams when the time came. According to Blackball Stars, Foster told his colleagues, "We are the ship, all else the sea." Club owners criticized Foster, who became president of the league, for the power he had to serve as booking agent and hire umpires for the league since he owned a club himself. The players accused him of hiring umpires who favored the Giants. Foster survived the criticism in part by moving players from one team to another, apparently to effect parity among them. The colorful manager ran the league as a generous and benevolent autocrat, advancing loans to meet payrolls, sometimes from his own pocket. He helped players when they were in financial need. He believed in paying good salaries to keep good players.
The American Giants won the first three pennants in the new league, in 1920, 1921, and 1922. Foster's league prospered and prompted sports leaders in other parts of the country to form leagues. The Southern League was formed around this time, followed by the Eastern Colored League in 1923. Foster was unsuccessful in 1924 in his efforts to merge the NNL and the Eastern Colored League. Each manager wanted to retain his powerful position. When the teams met that year in a World Series, the Kansas City Monarchs of the NNL beat the Hilldale Club of the East. These games showcased some of the best black baseball players of the period.
Foster, who by then owned a barbershop as well as an automobile service shop, continued to oversee both the Negro National League and the American Giants. Throughout his baseball career he manipulated his players like robots and wholly directed his teams. According to Total Baseball, "Foster's teams specialized in the bunt, the steal, and the hit and run," which he advocated strongly, and characterized black baseball as well. A man with a remarkable memory who called everyone "darling," he never drank alcohol but puffed on a big pipe. He was both feared and respected by his players and fellow baseball managers. He was often called the greatest baseball manager of any race and shared his talent with others by teaching baseball subtleties to a generation of black managers, including Dave Malarcher, Biz Mackey, and Oscar Charleston. But, according to some writers, he wore himself out.
After being exposed to gas that leaked in his room in Indianapolis in May of 1925, he became unconscious and had to be dragged from his room to safety. Although he recovered, he became prone to illness thereafter. He began to act erratically the following year. Foster was placed in the state insane asylum at Kankakee, Illinois, with baseball still on his mind. He constantly raved about wanting to get out of bed and win another pennant. After his death of a heart attack at age 51 on December 9, 1930, a mammoth funeral drew 3,000 mourners who stood outside the church in the falling snow to watch Foster's final trip to Chicago's Lincoln Cemetery. Unfortunately, Foster's wife was unfamiliar with his business arrangements and realized no benefits from his baseball ventures. Foster's partner, John Schorling, ran the club until 1928, then sold it to a white florist, William E. Trimble. Black business leaders revived the club briefly in the early 1930s, but it never reached its original level of power.
Although Foster's league died with him during the Great Depression, black baseball was reborn in the mid-thirties. By 1945 Jackie Robinson became the first black to enter major league baseball of the modern era. As well, 36 players from the old Negro leagues went to the majors during this early period. Foster's dream of an integrated baseball league was realized. The ultimate recognition for Foster came in 1981, when he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
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